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March 29 & 30 PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 2
March 31 PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 2
April 1 PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 2
Bronfman and CSO forge a powerhouse partnership with Beethoven
Chicago Sun Times
February 17, 2017
By Hedy Weiss
To start, I will leave it to the great novelist Philip Roth to describe Yefim Bronfman, who played Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major” Thursday evening as Maestro Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Although in his book “The Human Stain” Roth describes the pianist playing a work by Prokofiev, the overall impression of the musician needs little editing.
As Roth writes: “Then Bronfman appears. Bronfman the brontosaur! Mr. Fortissimo! Enter Bronfman to play at such a pace and with such bravado as to knock my morbidity clear out of the ring. He is conspicuously massive through the upper torso . . . somebody who has strolled into the music shed out of a circus where he is the strongman and who takes on the piano as a ridiculous challenge to the gargantuan strength he revels in. Yefim Bronfman looks less like the person who is going to play the piano than like the guy who should be moving it. I had never before seen anybody go at a piano like this sturdy little barrel of an unshaven Russian Jew.”
Listening to Bronfman play Beethoven’s familiar concerto is like being in a crowded room when suddenly a profound conversationalist begins to speak and everyone just steps back to listen with rapt attention. The pianist is, indeed, a bear of a man, and when that heft is called for in this piece, he is there to deliver it. He can roar, but he also can whisper. He can conjure a multitude of dynamics, shifting quickly from one extreme to another – making little fuss with the simple opening chords of that first movement, and later grabbing hold of great solo interludes with such force that by the end of the first movement even the CSO’s sophisticated audience broke an unspoken taboo and erupted into spontaneous applause.
Of course, the CSO and Muti can do much same thing, shifting from the concerto’s lightest, most fluid, rippling passages, to its slower, more considered sequences, to the fury of the strings (altogether ravishing) in the second movement. And there are moments when the overall structure of the piece, and its seamless melding of moods, just makes you sit up and revel anew at the genius of Beethoven.
For the program’s opener, Muti chose something of an “amuse bouche” – the Overture to Rossini’s opera “Semiramide.” Although the opera itself is a tragedy, the shifts from a delicate, skittering energy to full-out storminess, from the sweetness of one theme to the mellow sound of a full complement of French horns, is easily engaging. And Rossini clearly is mother’s milk to Muti.
The second half of the program was devoted to Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 5 in D Major (Reformation),” and true to its title, it heralds the establishment of the Lutheran faith, to the point where at one moment you can almost hear Martin Luther nailing to a door the paper containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation.
The irony in all this is that Mendelssohn was from a prominent German-Jewish family that, feeling the impact of European anti-Semitism, made the decision to convert to Lutheranism. His symphony, superbly played here, unquestionably summons up the notion of an emergent and then fully triumphant movement, with the liturgical weight leavened by passages with an almost dancing, lyrical sweetness. Yet I can’t say I was swept away by this work. I would much prefer to hear this composer’s “Violin Concerto,” “String Octet” or music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ”
Posted on 17 February 2017
Cleveland Orchestra returns to Bruckner and Widmann with renewed, clearer vision (review)
January 13, 2017
By Zachary Lewis
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Out of agony this week at Severance Hall comes a disproportionate degree of ecstasy.
No matter that both works on the program were conceived at least partially in sadness. The Cleveland Orchestra and music director Franz Welser-Most still manage to make the experience of them uplifting.
As well they might have been expected to do. Both Bruckner and Jorg Widmann are composers with whom the musicians are intimately familiar. Welser-Most has been an avid (some might say too avid) champion of Widmann, and the symphonies of Bruckner have emerged as hallmarks of his tenure.
That intimacy certainly shone through the performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 Thursday night. After several years away from the score and a DVD recording, Welser-Most returned to the piece with seemingly clearer eyes, more determined than ever to reveal its structural and emotional wonders.
Never has the conductor taken a smooth, luxurious approach to Bruckner. His preference, exemplified again Thursday, has always been to revel in the music's abruptness, to celebrate its contrasts and never to deprive listeners of a tumultuous, rough-and-tumble ride.
Nowhere was this philosophy more evident, or more greatly appreciated, than in the symphony's Finale. As the cap to Bruckner's long musical journey, Welser-Most gave each force in the orchestra, especially the brass, carte blanche, even at the expense of balance, elegance, and other niceties. The result was a turbulent wrestling match, in which the tide shifted often and the struggle was relentless.
No less effective was the Adagio. If ever there were a piece Welser-Most was born to conduct, this is it. In that one movement, Bruckner audibly grapples with all the eternal questions and ultimately transforms his melancholy over the imminent death of Wagner into a grand affirmation of life and faith.
The performance Thursday lacked for nothing. The lyrical opening was as tender and achingly beautiful as could be, the long, gradual rise to resolution wholly organic and irresistible. On top of that came a devastating climax.
The takeaway from the first movement, meanwhile, was Bruckner's structural genius. After taking a few bars to settle, Welser-Most and the orchestra set about erecting a solid tower in which every component, from the foundation to the peak, was audibly, inextricably, and poignantly linked. They did so, too, without applying gloss or making any attempt to patch over the bumps.
Structure was also one of several admirable traits of Widmann's "Trauermarsch" ("Funeral March"), an absorbing, single-movement piano concerto performed by pianist Yefim Bronfman. Even as the 25-minute score, a joint commission from 2014, ranged in innumerable, chaotic directions, a simple stepping motif persisted, lumbering steadily beneath it all.
Color and texture were its other finest qualities. Brilliant as he was negotiating a dense and wandering thicket at the keyboard, Bronfman was only the most prominent element in a dazzling chromatic patchwork.
Bolstered by a host of unusual percussion instruments, the orchestra joined and dovetailed the piano on a stately trek interrupted by everything from bouts of frenetic screaming to alien melodies. A few profoundly low notes on the rarely-heard contrabass clarinet endowed the conclusion with a chilling air of finality.
Musical ecstasy comes in many forms, and this, surely, was one of them.
Posted on 13 January 2017